Jumana and I are back from a week’s pseudo-wedding-anniversary vacation in Belize!! We wanted someplace warm to finish our scuba certification, and Jumana had seen lots of “Belize” ads on The Daily Show, so we went there, and it was perfect. Warm, but with cool ocean breezes… the calmest, shallowest seas I’d ever seen, protected by reefs, sometimes with clutches of green mangroves growing right out of the water… isolated islands like Half Moon Caye, overgrown with coconut palms and littoral forest, and then something as incongruous as a boat dock and a gift shop… and undersea life much more beautiful than what I saw in our admittedly brief scuba-diving experience in Greece. BEAUTIFUL!!! I’d never been to the Caribbean before, so this was my first time experiencing the sort of landscape that was famous in the Age of Piracy.

We took a water taxi to Caye Caulker and spent 95% of our trip (all except for the taxi rides to the airport, basically) on that small island of <2,000 people. It was interesting seeing that island (and by extension, probably, all of Belize) caught midway between a fishing-village past and a neoliberal economic transformation into a tourist attraction. Locals told us that 30 years ago there hadn't been any electricity on the island; today, there's an (unpaved) main street lined with hotels and bars and gift shops. We eventually discovered the somewhat disturbing fact that lots of the snazzy new businesses were owned by rich expats/immigrants from the USA (the same ones buying $100,000 houses on the island), while the original Caulker locals were more likely to be the ones hawking coconuts and grilled chicken on their homemade-looking grills beside the road. It was a gorgeous place, though, and -- in that visit, at least -- didn't have the air of tourism-dependence desperation and poverty that I've felt while visiting Cairo or the Mayan ruins in Mexico. Also, there were tons of dogs there. Semi-stray dogs, roaming around happily and nonaggressively, having their ears scratched, safe from being hit by cars since the fastest traffic on the island was golf carts. I've never seen dogs living so contentedly, and a few days into our journey we could identify "that Yorkie" or "that Schnauzer" among the many wandering canine encounters. So, friendly dogs, friendly people, palm trees, mangroves and scuba diving. I'd definitely go back to Belize. NEXT UPDATE: Next Wednesday!